Godless? Nope.

American Atheists’ Dave Silverman writes:

… After the [Elizabeth] Dole commercial, I’m considering going GODLESS.

Godless also has no ambiguity, and leaves no room for debate as to what I mean or how I think. It also, perhaps, has an even more negative meaning than Atheist — thereby allowing me to do more damage to other people’s thought processes by showing how nice a godless guy can be.

And, while we can debate the definitions of Atheist and Agnostic all night, Godless seems a broader term, encompassing more people who don’t like the A-word, but cannot deny the G-word.

Perhaps we should take our cue from the bigoted former senator. Should we take back Godless?

While accurate — we do live life without a God — this term won’t get any sort of positive message across.

We want to challenge people and get them thinking critically about their beliefs. By advocating the word “godless,” I guarantee it’ll turn off more people from wanting to consider such a life than it will help.

“Godless” already has negative connotations (“Godless Communists”) and we don’t need any more of an uphill battle. It’s hard enough being an “atheist.” Telling someone you’re “Godless” will end the conversation before it even begins. It might make you feel smug, but it’s a poor marketing tool.

Is it worse than “atheism”? Not really. But “atheism” is more common and many people already use it. It’s the subject of books and websites and a word that I consider a good umbrella term for all of us.

Even better might be telling someone that you are a “Humanist” or a “Bright.”

If you do, you will inevitably receive a wonderful follow-up question: “What is that?”

If you call yourself “Godless,” others will just assume they know everything they need to know about you and not even bother with a conversation.

Would you prefer using the “Godless” term?

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  • Brooks

    I’d only use the word “godless” when I’m making fun of fundies, but otherwise in serious conversation I prefer to go by the label atheist. Also, wouldn’t the label godless imply that a god exists that people can be without?

  • http://dyfl.blogspot.com nathaniel

    I like to call myself god free

  • Matthew

    “Godless” implies we’re missing something.

    If I was coffeeless, that would imply that I’m missing coffee. I have “less” coffee than I should rightly have.

    So if atheists want to take back a word, this is not the one to take back.

    Now, “god free”, as mentioned above is much better! That implies we’re cleansed of this “god” and are now free of it.

  • http://cupcakesinhell.blogspot.com jynnan_tonnyx

    Besides the negative connotations, I’m not entirely sure “Godless” is a completely accurate term.

    Atheism means “without theism”, and therefore correctly defines those who lack belief in a theistic god. But even most atheists hold some sort of value or ideal in the sort of high esteem that theists reserve for their respective gods: Truth. Justice. Reason. Freedom. Art. Love. The betterment of humanity. Or whatever; one or more of these things are as real and important to most of the atheists I know as God is to most theists. Whether it’s intended or not, I think “Godless” suggests some sort of spiritual or philosophical arrogance or anarchy.

    One of the big problems I’ve encountered is the misapprehension that atheism is somehow synonymous with nihilism. I think what we should be emphasizing is the humanist angle: rather than focusing on what we do NOT value or believe in, let’s put a positive spin on things: we value humanity and reason and freedom and justice and charity and whatever else. As it turns out, we happen to not believe in theistic gods, but that aspect doesn’t need to be put in the spotlight; that will just draw more attention to the differences we have with theists, rather than the positive values that we share with many of them.

  • http://ransomedhome.com Step

    I happen to be a Christian, so probably not the target market for your question. I do want to agree though that Godless would be a poor choice, and I think it is less clear than atheism (as best I understand what meaning would be intended).

    Godless is traditionally taken to mean “living without God” (at least in religious circles). It is not denying that a God exists (or the opposite). Instead it is a statement on the type of life that is lived – a metaphor for a life without morals. Atheist, on the other hand, points to a belief that God does not exist, rather than a specific type of lifestyle.

    I still maintain that I don’t understand how, from an atheist worldview, values and ideals can be held to rationally. I know, not the topic of this post. Just sayin’. :)

  • http://noodleguy.wordpress.com noodleguy

    I wouldn’t want to use it but I feel it is an accurate describer. As you said, most atheists do hold some sort of value in high esteem. But that could still accurately be called “Godless”

    Godless, i.e. without gods. Well, that describes me quite well, thanks.

    Now is it a term we want to use? Well if you WANT to look like a total deush go ahead…but I’m sticking with atheist if that’s alright with everyone.

  • http://www.cognitivedissident.org cognitive dissident

    I don’t mind calling myself an atheist, although I prefer “secular humanist” or “freethinker” instead. (I also prefer “liberal” to “progressive,” so I’m a little bit old-school sometimes…)

    We can effectively re-brand any word we choose (as the LGBT community did to some extent with “queer”) but the usual caution about cat-herding applies.

    Oh, and Matthew’s suggestion of “god-free” instead of “godless” is a great idea!

  • http://aurorawalkingvacation.blogspot.com/ Paul

    The funny thing is, everyone is already Godless. The religious just don’t realize it.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    I don’t define myself by the things that I live without. I define myself by what I believe in, which is why I call myself both a progressive and a secular humanist. Godless? I let other people worry about god(s), I really don’t care. I don’t believe in a god, so why would I take so much trouble to define myself by my lack of a relationship with something that I don’t even believe exists?

    Godless also doesn’t speak to the perceived existence of a god, and it actually implies that one may believe a god exists but nevertheless chooses to live without him/her/it.

  • Simon

    I recently took to call myself an atheist.
    I resisted before, mainly because it is not all that accurate, I am mostly an apathetic agnostic leaning toward atheism (‘I don’t know if there is a God, there does not seem to be but, who cares?’).

    But, I have seen atheism being publicly maligned too many times now, so, I decided to cross-over.

    I do like the term ‘Godless’ as a personal descriptor myself. It might shock people, but there is a real value in kicking people in the nuts until they stop feeling anything (I call it, developing tolerance).
    And it is kinda accurate too, I am Godless, may be there is a God, but I want no part of it.

  • Kyle

    Can we PLEASE get rid of “Bright” entirely? It strongly implies that those who do not share your ideas are not bright. It’s generally and unnecessarily insulting.

    I like the idea of ‘Godless’, but only if appended with ‘Heathen’.

  • Larry Huffman

    Well…no, I do not think the term godless means you are missing god…as in you need him and he is missing. The term means that you are without god. The missing part is implied in this case. The coffee analogy works for coffee only if you want or need coffee. I can hate coffee and not want it at all and still be coffeeless. -less does not always mean missing in a need based context. I am quite godless and I do not miss him or need him. I am also tubaless and I do not miss or need a tuba. I am also catless, and have no desire to get another cat. In fact I am alot-of-things-less that I do not need or miss.

    I think the use of this word, as Dave Silverman suggests, is valid in certain circumstances. I think it depends on the audience. But, the problem is, you cannot always know your audience. The word is a bit more blunt than atheist. So if you need to hammer home with a group that you do not believe in god, godless may be a bit more effective than atheist.

    I think that godless or atheist…either one has negative connotation for most theists. They are both basically saying the same thing. I do not think godless is broader than atheism (and agnostisim is not part of the equation since it deals with whether we can have knowledge, not if we individually believe), just more direct.

    I do prefer to use the term atheist.

  • Obermeister

    I have to admit, I’ve never met a group as hung up on labels as atheists/agnostics/freethinkers/brights/godless/etc/etc/etc people. I can’t say I care much one way or another. However, IN GENERAL, I can appreciate taking the labels our enemies use against us and turning them around as badges of pride. Blacks and gays have both done this to great effect. Now if only we could find some way to make it sound cool.

  • http://jtron.livejournal.com jesse

    Another vote here against “bright”

    It comes off as arrogant and precious

  • Josh

    I agree with Hemant here… Godless is just an unnecessary complication to the story. I guess it’s the same idea as gay people reclaiming queer, but we are already reclaiming atheist… which is negative enough.

  • Iztok

    Can we PLEASE get rid of “Bright” entirely? It strongly implies that those who do not share your ideas are not bright. It’s generally and unnecessarily insulting.

    No, I don’t think so. For the same reason “gay” does not imply that those who are not homosexuals are not happy.

    If someone gets by with “intelligent design” I see no reason for us not to use word “bright”.

  • sc0tt

    I rather like “heathen”; no prefixes or suffixes contrasting me with what I’m not, just enough shock value to be a conversation starter, nice retro sounding label.

  • «bønez_brigade»

    I like “godless” — godless is good. “godless heathen” and “atheist” are also nice descriptors.
    I revel in godless monikers.

  • http://noodleguy.wordpress.com noodleguy

    Bleh, a vote against “Bright” from here too. I dislike the term strongly.

    “Heathen” sounds good though 😛

  • Loren Petrich

    Actually, “atheist” is from Greek: “a(n)” (not) + “theos” (god). That makes “godless” is its native-English counterpart: “god” + “-less”.

  • http://auryn29a.livejournal.com Auryn

    Heh. I use lyrics from the song “Godless” by Danzig in my Livejournal profile. I kinda like the term “godless.” I like “heathen,” too.

  • http://www.cognitivedissident.org cognitive dissident

    Both “infidel” and “skeptic” could be useful, as well…

  • skinman

    I like godless as well as atheist. I hate “bright”. It says to me “I’m an atheist but I don’t want you to know that I’m an atheist”. It feels cowardly.

  • http://mcshaggy.blogspot.com Father Shaggy

    In fact, I want “Godless” on a T-Shirt.

  • http://www.travisjmorgan.com Travis Morgan

    I think saying, “I do not believe there is a god to believe in or disbelieve in,” most accurately reflects my position.

    Simply saying “I do not believe in god” seems to force an affirmation of god just to immediately deny it. Which I don’t think represents my position as well as the previous statement.

    With that said, I do not think that “godless” is the best way to reflect our stance, because again I don’t believe there is a god to begin with to even be god-less. There is nothing there to begin with to be -less. To say “godless,” seems to affirm a god just to at a minimum immediately deny it’s presence. As though it existed, but we are without it. I think it is a misrepresentation of our stance.

  • http://blargen.com/blog/ postsimian

    I don’t get the whole “Bright” thing. It’s non-descriptive and doesn’t really roll off the tongue in a way I could get used to.

    I usually refer to myself as an atheist or a humanist. I use them pretty interchangeably, and don’t really adjust them to my audience. I think these terms are frankly more honest than saying “I’m a Bright.” To me, it sounds like you’re ashamed to say the A-word.

  • Old Geezer

    I’m with Obermeister only to a greater extreme. I just don’t see the need for labels. Were I amongst a group of Tuba players I would not ponder announcing myself as an “Atubaist” or as being “Tubaless.” I am, simply, who I am. If asked I would simply explain that I do not own or play a Tuba.

    Sometimes I think that having to label yourself is simply a defense mechanism to assuage your own insecurities. I am a (insert word here) so I belong to a group of easily identified people who (think, look, move, etc.) like me. Wow! That makes me somebody!

    Labels belong on bottles and jars because they can’t speak for themselves.

  • llewelly

    I have to admit, I’ve never met a group as hung up on labels as atheists/agnostics/freethinkers/brights/godless/etc/etc/etc people.

    I can think of many examples. Feminists prior to about 1960, African-Americans prior to about 1970, Gays prior to about 1980, open source/free software/creative commons advocates, geeks/nerds prior to about 2000, …

  • Dallas

    I love “god free”–thanks, nathaniel! I also say “I’m not religious” and leave it at that.

    I’m casting another vote against “Bright,” which I’ve hated since I first heard the term. It is exclusive and elitist. What about people who are not “Brights”–are they “Dulls”? Or “Dullards”? Is insulting those who don’t share our views going to gain their respect? (Some of us claim not to care whether believers respect us or not, but I have to live and work among them and they greatly outnumber me, so I prefer to foster a little respect.)

  • Brooks

    “I can think of many examples. Feminists prior to about 1960, African-Americans prior to about 1970, Gays prior to about 1980, open source/free software/creative commons advocates, geeks/nerds prior to about 2000,” Let’s not also forget how many Christians can’t make up their minds on who a “true” Christian is and insist that the “false” Christians are not Christians at all.

  • «bønez_brigade»

    @ Father Shaggy,
    Take your pick:
    The Godless shirt is on row 3, column 3.

  • http://noodleguy.wordpress.com noodleguy

    About those Godless shirts…
    I know what I’m asking for for Christmas!!!

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    It is usually meant as an epithet, so no one expects anyone to use the word to describe themselves. Use “Godless” for extra shock power or extra irony. Same as “heathen” or “infidel”, but with different connotations. If you are worried about the precise semantical definition, need something more serious, or are talking to people who may miss the irony, just use a different word.

    There is a certain virtue in using a “negative” word rather than a “positive” one to describe yourself. On the one hand, you want to present yourself positively. On the other hand, you don’t want to present yourself as better than everyone else.

    Should we take back Godless?

    Uh, no. It’s current purpose is irony and shock power. If you “take it back” what purpose would it serve?

  • Eliza

    I’m with Simon, apathetic agnostic atheist (atheist as in “not worshipping any god”) fits well but isn’t worth the effort, so I go with atheist or skeptic. Actually, “ignostic” seems like the most accurate term for my take on the whole god thing, but totally confuses people, who assume I’m just mangling “agnostic”.

    Etymology has been mentioned for a-theist & god-less. Interesting for some of the other words, too. “Heathen” is apparently from Old English meaning “not Christian or Jewish”, which is accurate but not comprehensive. “Infidel” is from Latin “infidelis”, initially “not faithful”, later “not believing” – an accurate term for atheists, though it’s been used of course by some in recent years to mean “not Islamic”.

  • Diane G.

    Dallas Says:

    November 19th, 2008 at 4:07 pm
    I love “god free”–thanks, nathaniel! I also say “I’m not religious” and leave it at that.

    I’m casting another vote against “Bright,” which I’ve hated since I first heard the term. It is exclusive and elitist. What about people who are not “Brights”–are they “Dulls”? Or “Dullards”? Is insulting those who don’t share our views going to gain their respect? (Some of us claim not to care whether believers respect us or not, but I have to live and work among them and they greatly outnumber me, so I prefer to foster a little respect.)

    Apparently, you’ve paid little attention to the concept since it first arose. For some time now, as suggested by Dennett, those who are not Brights are Supers (as in, supernaturalists). Nice positive terms for both sides…(As Dennett points out, in current parlance, those who aren’t Gay are Straight–not Dour, or some such…)

    I am neutral on the Bright terminology. If it succeeds, a la gay, so much the better. By reading the many comments the Brights get from people around the world, it is a term that many find much preferable to any other, pre-existing term. The Bright founders are very cognizent of the dissent, as well, to the extent of offering “Love the Concept, Hate the Name” merchandise.

    To anyone who just instinctively hates the Brights concept but considers him-/herself a rational thinker, I suggest you take some time to peruse their website and newsletters to get a more accurate picture of what they are about.

    Actually, what annoys me the most about them is that they practically bend over backwards to avoid offending, believe it or not. What intrigues me the most are the various Brights iniatives they come up with, in which they solicit member involvement to come up with group consensuses on how to define/address certain issues. In other words, the Brights themselves are far more interested in spreading the naturalistic world view than just the name.

    –Diane, who personally prefers freethinker to all other labels.

  • John B

    A long time ago, when I deconverted from Christianity, I looked for a label to identify as. After awhile, I finally just settled on “human being” – granted, it doesn’t advance atheism, or anything else for that matter, but it comes with zero connotations or misunderstandings and requires no explanation. It keeps me and the person I’m talking with on the same plane- we’re all human beings, no matter what you believe or don’t believe. I know for some religious people humans = bad, but for most people that’s not the case, so I think it helps me relate better to people that I don’t have much in common with. We can discuss beliefs and semantics later.

  • tamarind

    I definitely prefer the term non-theist. It’s pretty accurate.

    Bright sounds downright stupid, and godless would probably seem threatening to believers. While I have no problem with atheist or agnostic, there are conflicting definitions of what those mean, and it can get tiresome explaining which definition I go by.

  • Tao Jones

    Sorry, I still don’t like “Bright” at all. Despite what the group actually stands for, the name plays right into the arrogant atheist stereotype.

    I’d rather get the message across that you don’t need to be an intellectual or an academic in order to be an atheist. Regular everyday people are atheists too. We’re not better than anyone else so lets show the “average Christian” that they too can easily shed off their superstitious beliefs.

    Iztok said,

    If someone gets by with “intelligent design” I see no reason for us not to use word “bright”.

    Do we really want to play this game of schoolyard semantics? Do we need to stoop to the level of ID proponents? We’re using them as out model for effective communication? Why not just call ourselves Ultra Supertastic Antidisestablishmentarians? Imagine the support we’d get at political rallies in the States!

  • bhanaji

    It appears that folks’ suggestions for an appropriate label are originating from a spectrum of motivations found within two extremes: the desire to provoke others into rethinking their convictions, and the wish that everyone would just mind their own damned business and address each individual human being as such. I tend to act according to the latter motivation but feel deep respect for, and gratitude toward, those who are driven by the former (thanks, Dave.) I don’t like “Godless” or “God-free” or “atheist” or “non-theist” because discussions about what is “crow” and what is “not-crow” confer way more importance upon “crow” than I am willing to allow. “Bright” is truly unfortunate and I hope it dies out. “Infidel” is not right because theists do not hold the monopoly on faith. Faith is not necessarily a conviction- it can be an attitude and a commitment to principles that have no foundation in the supernatural. I like “skeptic” best because it is neutral and lacks undertones of egotism and condescension.

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com efrique

    When people are determined that you should bear a negative connotation, no choice of words will deal with that, since any term will acquire a negative connotation, if people are determined that any term for you should.

    Well, apart from ‘baby-eater’. They can’t make that sound anything but tasty.

  • Vincent

    Not a big deal. Several of the women in the Beltway Atheists (washington DC meetup group) wear the godless necklace, a picture of which can be seen here: http://www.etsy.com/view_listing.php?listing_id=11164536

    I have no problem with it. Just doesn’t fit as easily on a lapel pin.

  • Tim Bob

    I own five shirts and two beenies with the words “god free” on them, i perfer god free and so do the many atheists i am acquainted with. For those of you wishing to also own tshirts or beenies. The guy i buy them from has a myspace and his clothing company is called “hexed clothing” he’s a decent guy has no money and just likes making shirts haha.

  • http://www.nicest-girl.com Izzib3th

    I call myself “atheist” more than I do “godless” but I do have a bumper sticker on my car that says “GODLESS” in bold, red letters. Either one is fine with me. Call yourself whatever you want… that’s my opinion.

  • Ray

    I vote no on godless. It does not even imply atheism. Many times I am shoeless but that says nothing about the non-existence of shoes.

    As for bright, it should have been dropped long ago.

  • http://www.meetup.com/beltwayatheists Shelley Mountjoy

    I’m not too big on the term “godless” however I applaud Silverman’s attempt to flip the script… embrace the word used to ‘condemn’ us in the court of public opinion.